Review Summary: Traced in Air is essentially the audible recording of the element of Air, in all of its beauty and rage, and one could not ask for anything more.
It’s hard to go into Traced in Air
without lingering memories of Cynic’s original masterpiece, Focus
was a landmark technical metal album, deftly combining heavy metal with elements of jazz and alternative rock to form what is still regarded as one of the pinnacles of the metal scene in the early '90s. This leaves Traced in Air
with two sets of shoes to fill: it first has to live up to how great Focus
was quality-wise, but it also has the anticipation of perhaps being another genre-fusing and building album like its predecessor. While some may have expected the 15 years and band member changes to perhaps cause a giant shift in sound which would have caused either a renaissance or a dilution of Cynic’s sound, all that happened in 15 years was the maturation of Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinart and Sean Malone to the point where Traced in Air
sounds like the older, futuristic, spacey cousin of the already futuristic, spacey Focus
. Which means it's arguably the weirdest metal album released this year, and almost undoubtedly the best.
The highlight of the album is tough to distinguish, as the playing of all the members is top notch and the concepts are executed so well that it all generally blends into one unifying force. When broken down though, it is Paul Masvidal’s guitar playing that puts Cynic over the top. Whereas most “tech” metal guitarists end up relying on similar guitar riffs and patterns, Masvidal’s outstanding creativity and phrasings combined with his impeccable ear for guitar tones and effects makes all of his guitar work on Traced in Air
sound fresh and unique. “The Space For This” showcases all of his talents, as he goes from simple note and chord arrangements in the beginning to a free-flowing solo that reminds one of a more aggressive, metal-inclined John Mclaughlin, Eastern influences and all. His work on the album is astounding, and while the guitar interplay with Tymon Kruidenier isn’t as intricate or impressive as it was when Jason Gobel was with the band, it doesn’t take away from the accomplishments they make on Traced in Air
None of this is to take away from bassist Sean Malone or drummer Sean Reinart’s work, both of whom assume massive influence on this records greatness. Reinart is technically impressive with his tight rhythmic playing being counterbalanced with just the right amount of fills and jazz-improvisation styled drumming. It never gets out of hand like some other “extreme metal” drummers end up doing, and Reinart’s chemistry with Masvidal and Malone in crafting songs is unparalleled in contemporary metal. Malone isn’t as verbose on the bass as he used to be, but solidly contributes. The one possible fault of the album is his role in the mix, which is often just a tad bit too low, drowning him out in the low end of the other instruments.
What makes Traced in Air
special is not the incredible musicianship, although that helps. What makes it such an immense record is the execution and delivery of the concept. The songs are flowing melodies that sound as if they are “traced in air”; the songs all contain a beauty seldom seen in the technical side of metal (Opeth wishes they could pull off that part of their dynamic as well as Cynic). While some may see it as a downfall that the heaviness Focus
had has been replaced by a far more atmospheric and light take on their sound, deep listens will begin to uncover all the small intricacies of the album. It would take too long to delve into what makes each of these songs special, with “Integral Birth” and “Evolutionary Sleeper” being what amounts to the ‘accessible’ tracks, while “The Unknown Guest” and “King of Those Who Know” push the envelope of Cynic’s songwriting.
Beyond what I have stated, attempting to describe the album could only end up in two ways; either a 3 page dissertation of their sounds and goals or a messy jumble of metaphors and analogies that only serve to indulge my urge to write. It is safe to say Traced in Air
is a unique album in the world of both metal and rock music, and one crafted with such love and fondness it would be a wonder if they don’t continue on to write more material. Its short length means you don’t get burned out on the riffs or Masvidal’s airy singing, or annoyed at the slapped-on growls (which aren’t bad, but just aren’t necessary anymore). Traced in Air
is the most impressive record I’ve been able to hear in years, one in which I can mindlessly headbang too a riff one minute, and then sit back mouth agape the next minute at an extended jazzy guitar solo with nothing lost in translation. While some may wonder where the corn is, most will find enough to appreciate to make them come back time and time again for more. A truly exemplary record, Traced in Air
is essentially the audible recording of the element of Air, in all of its beauty and rage, and one could not ask for anything more.